Selection call: how nervous Wallabies discovered their World Cup fate

Rugby World Cup
by Iain Payten

When his phone flashed up with Michael Cheika’s number late on Tuesday night, Christian Lealiifano’s heart sank.

For players, Tuesday was in the calendar as selection D-Day. 

That night, players were due to be be told if they’d made the World Cup squad, and though it was only unofficial player-talk, the word was Wallabies legends would be ringing with the good news. Same as Cheika had organised for the 2015 squad.

Those who missed out in 2015 got a call from the coach.

And here was Lealiifano, at 10pm, getting a call from the coach.

“He’d actually called me four years ago to let me know I wasn’t in, so I saw his call and thought: ‘oh mate, I am not in again’,” Lealiifano said.

"He called me late. It was like 10 o’clock at night and I thought 'oh man, he’s calling people late who didn’t get in'.”

Around the country, ex-Wallabies were indeed calling up the current Wallabies, telling them they’d made the cut. Some calls went smoothly and others were seized upon as an opportunity for an old mate to stitch up a nervous friend.

For Lealiifano, the call from the coach wasn’t the bad news he’d feared. It was a mark of respect. 

Given the no.10’s remarkable fight back from cancer, Cheika wanted to pass on the selection news himself.

"I was really, really delighted when he said “I am calling for a different reason now”,” Lealiifano said.

"I was just really, really stoked, obviously of his recognition and that he said he is really proud to see me here on my journey. It is something I will be proud of for a long time."

The stories about who told who, and how the call went down, were traded around the Wallabies on Wednesday at training. 

The ever-private Michael Hooper politely asked Rob Horne if he could call him back later given he was out to dinner. Before the penny suddenly dropped.

There was the mischievous Nathan Sharpe waiting until 10.45pm to call Adam Coleman, well past the expected window.

Rod “Sergeant Slaughter” McCall congratulated David Pocock when he finally got through to him after a few missed calls and texts - which won’t surprise anyone who knows Pocock.

David Campese called Kurtley Beale and Nic White surprised George Gregan by answering a saved number with “G’day George!”.

James O’Connor got a call from one his favourite Wallabies, Tim Horan.

"I spoke to Tim after the game (in Auckland) but hadn't had a good chat with him in four or five years. So I saw his number calling and I did not clock it at all,” O’Connor said.

"I was like, 'What's going on here?'. We started having a chat and I think I was probably talking a little bit too much and then he was like 'Aah look mate, the reason for the call is..." but it was awesome. 

"I've always looked up to Tim, a lot of my game I modelled off him being a ball-playing centre so it was great to have a good chat to him and for him to let me know the great news."

Adam Ashley-Cooper’s good news was delivered his old mate Matt Giteau. Eventually. 

"We’re good mates and we speak quite regularly, so it’s kind of a normal call,” Ashley-Cooper said.

"I was in birthing class and he tried to call me, and I was like “what’s he calling me for?”. 

"I put him through to the keeper but I thought maybe he is ringing to see how I went. 

'I got back to him later that night and we were just talking about life, footy, Wallabies, stuff. It was kind of odd though so I said “mate what’s going on?”. 

"He used something as a segue way in and  said ‘well mate that’s why I am calling. Congratulations”.

"Mind you it was 15-20 minutes into the conversation. He said 'mate I just wanted to make you sweat'.

"It is actually pretty cool because that is a new bit of rugby history that has been created and when I look back at my fourth Rugby World Cup, I will remember Gits as being part of it.”